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Unity Rate May Rise 43%

Voting for town and school officers is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, at town hall. Town Meeting begins at noon on Saturday, March 16, at Town Hall. The School Meeting begins at noon on Saturday, March 23 at Stevens High School.

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Unity — The second year’s bond payment for the new $4.7 million elementary school and a large increase in special education costs for next year have pushed up the estimated increase in the local school tax rate more than 43 percent, or $4.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Two other articles on the March 23 school meeting warrant — a $350,000 bond to complete the new elementary school and $29,500 for new technology — would add another 27 cents onto the rate.

“This is the first full year of the bond payment for the new school,” said SAU 6 Business Manager Tim Ball, explaining the main factor in the increase.

The school budget is projected to increase 18 percent to $3.5 million. The $517,000 increase is mostly going toward paying higher debt service costs ($272,000) and an increase in special education costs ($179,000). The remaining amount is going toward paying for technology, benefits cost increases or “other,” according to figures provided by Ball.

In-state special education for high school tuition spiked more than 1,100 percent to about $407,000. Ball said the higher cost is to pay for several students, one of who attends school out-of-district.

Cushioning that increase is a decline in special education elementary tuition costs, which is down $247,700 or 61 percent to $156,300.

There is also a drop in special education transportation costs of $26,000, and with six fewer Unity students projected to attend high school next year, regular tuition decreased 6 percent to $798,000.

Debt service is increasing from $115,439 to $387,120.

The $350,000 bond to complete the school is mostly for additional site work, architect Scott Vaughn said in an interview yesterday. Vaughn said even with the additional $350,000 cost, residents are getting a new school at a price that is less than the original overall cost.

“We were very careful on how we spent the money to get the maximum benefit,” said Vaughn, owner of Vaughn Associates. “Not only is it a bigger school, but it is better than what we agreed to build. We are building this at less than half the square foot cost anybody thought it could be done for.”

The original bond of $4.7 million would have included about $2 million in interest expense over 20 years, raising the total to $6.8 million.

“That was what voters agreed to pay when they voted in August 2010,” Vaughn said.

Though state aid only covers principal payments, Vaughn noted that the aid, obtained through legislation during the building aid moratorium, effectively offsets the interest expense.

Scott also pointed out that the school was originally going to be 28,500 square feet but now is nearly 35,000 square feet after the School Board agreed to enlarge the gymnasium, add one classroom and double the size of three others.

“Those were very viable and well-made decisions by the School Board,” Vaughn said.

Nonetheless, despite the larger building, there was not a corresponding increase in the overall cost.

“So it is 22 percent larger for the same amount of money.”

Vaughn said the $107 per square-foot cost is far below the $246 per square foot cost of recently built schools in Concord.

It will take 38 months — not 24 as initially planned — to finish the school, which will be ready for students at the start of the next school year. Vaughn said there were eight additional months in the design stage because of public input and six more months for the wall system after the original supplier could not deliver the product. Vaughn also pointed out that the School Board folded phase 2 of the project — furnishing, fixtures, equipment — into the $4.7 million bond.

If the proposed budget, the bond and technology warrant all pass as recommended, Ball projects the overall school tax rate to increase $4.98 to $18.53 per $1000 of assessed valuation. That would increase school taxes on a $150,000 property $747 a year to $2,780.

In the only contested race on the school ballot, incumbent Craig Shute is facing a challenge from Robert McDevitt.

A fiduciary, McDevitt said he and his wife have lived in town 28 years and with their four children, all of whom attended school in Unity, out of the house, he has the time to serve.

“The community and school helped us put our children through school so now I think it is time to pay it forward,” said McDevitt. “I want to help the school that helped us.”

With regard to the $350,000 bond vote to finish the new elementary school, McDevitt doesn’t see an alternative.

“It is the only thing to do,” he said.

Several phone calls to Shute were not returned.

The proposed town budget of $969,863 for the fiscal year that began Jan. 1 is up 3.4 percent or $32,500 from last year.

But the amount to be raised by taxes for the budget and separate appropriations is projected to increase just $12,000, or 1.7 percent, and is not expected to have an impact on the town tax rate, which is currently $5.54 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“It looks to me that it will stay pretty near flat,” Selectboard Chairman Willard Hathaway said.

Hathaway also noted that voters put money into capital reserve funds each year and that helps avoid dramatic budget increases when there is a need for a large expenditure.

There are eight separate warrant articles with a combined total of $330,500. Revenues from the town’s fund balance and a highway block grant offset the two largest — $151,000 for the reserve fund for long-term road and bridge maintenance and $91,000 for road construction, respectively.

The remaining $88,501 is split among several articles including $40,000 for the highway vehicles reserve fund, $26,000 for the property revaluation reserve fund and $10,000 for the well monitoring trust fund. Another $10,000 under article 4 would install a new monitoring well at the closed landfill.

Contested races on the town ballot include the Planning Board, with Caryl McDevitt and Ethel Jarvis vying for a three-year seat. Jarvis is also a candidate for a three-year seat as a library trustee along with Mary Ellen Bellimer.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.